After much prayer, Bible study, consulting the wisdom of others, and soul searching, I finally developed a church strategy for the foreseeable future. Our people's church experience will consist of:
Facebook LIVE Worship Experience: Building on the following and the system we have begun to develop in March, we are planning to deliver a difference-making worship experience at our regular worship time of 11 AM on Sunday mornings. Our goal is to build our audience and incrementally improve the quality of our product as we eventually branch out to simultaneous livestreams across several platforms.
Online Small Groups: We had already been planning to implement a curriculum I am writing called "Faith Dissected" into groups in May. We have remade the curriculum to fit an online delivery format. We have interactive PDFs for notes and devotions, and we will host Zoom calls (or similar) for the discussion groups.
Online Prayer Meeting: We are pleased with the developments of our midweek prayer time at 11 AM on Wednesdays. This is conducted in a private Facebook group for our church (members only) for the sharing of prayer requests and praises of a personal nature, not for public consumption. People have come to expect this, and we love it. Some are taking their lunch hours from work to tune in and pray.
Curbside Church-in-a-Box: Even though we haven't implemented this yet, the plan is coming together to offer a plastic shoebox in a drive-through format. The box will contain CDs of services (for now), a printed newsletter, postage-paid offering envelopes, and more. We will communicate a time via phone tree and Facebook for people to come drive through and get their box. This will be done once per month. They can bring back their box to be sanitized and receive the next month's box.
Service Opportunities: Our two projects going on right now are sewing face masks for the hospital and distributing toilet paper.
Pastoral Care: My Assistant Pastor and I are calling through members and attenders each week to check in. It lets them know they are on our minds. We also learn of needs in this way.
Additional Online Content: We are producing additional Q&A videos, devotionals, and other online content for all generations to include social media and printable materials.
Looking Ahead Into the Fog
By now, it should be universally accepted that no one can know precisely when churches will be permitted to reopen their doors to groups of more than 10 people. Critics may criticize for any number of reasons, but this should not be one of them. Also, even with the uniqueness of the COVID-19 situation, any time we deal with uncertainty on this scale, we do well to prepare for as many different scenarios as possible. That said, I am grateful for the work others have done to forecast trends and ideas of where the Church may be post-coronavirus. Having done some of my own research, I'd like to add a few thoughts for church leaders to consider.
The 80% rule (or 70% rule) will probably become the 50% rule (not the 60% rule). You understand your worship space feels full at about 70-80% capacity. Some predict that post-coronavirus this percentage will fall to 60%. Based on researching policies at AMC Theaters and Regal Cinemas and others, 50% appears more likely. This has implications for churches who are designing buildings. If we build what we had previously designed, we will basically lose 60 usable seats if 50% is the new normal. It also has implications for mobile churches. Depending on how your rental agreements are structured, you may have to rent more ballrooms, or more classrooms, and this could drive up your costs.
"Public Health Officials" hold the trigger. Not much is said about how we will know when we can resume gatherings, probably because we are at the mercy of the government. The NBA, NHL, and other entities identify "public health officials" as having sole authority about when things reopen. For churches, this is significant, because we appear to have mixed feelings as to our level of willingness to comply with what these officials hand down. Let us factor in the reality that these officials are not just cancelling public worship, but also any gathering of any real size. This is a good talking point for conversations with members. It is essentially out of our hands.
People will give toward this but not that. Some are postulating how giving will be affected by COVID-19, just in broad terms of how much it will decrease. Admitting that none of us know anything about the future here for sure, it feels that giving could hold steady, decrease less than expected, or even increase depending on priorities. Layoffs, reduced hours, and basically having less residual income will change things. It feels like people will likely prioritize ministry (difference-making) with immediate fruit, community involvement, personnel (who are making a difference, loving, and serving), missions, and technology over brick-and-mortar, utilities, property upkeep, and so on. This will have budgeting implications.
I will save my other thoughts on future trends for a later post. Hope this helps! If you have a sense of where things are going for churches after COVID-19, please feel free to share it in the comments.
Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.